The big story today comes from Bloomberg, which tells a tale of the Romney campaign asking Florida Governor Rick Scott to downplay stories about economic recovery in his crucial swing state.
Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Scott, a Republican, was asked to say that the state’s jobless rate could improve faster under a Romney presidency, according to the people, who asked not to be named.
The big takeaway here is that Romney has some disloyalty at the staff level; that’s the only way for a story like this to get out. But it’s not like this is some secret. In several swing states beyond Florida – particularly in the industrial Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Iowa), but also in the government job-rich state of Virginia – Romney’s picture of an economic doomscape doesn’t match with the reality on the ground. In fact, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad publicly asked Romney to stop with the gloomy job pronouncements that didn’t match his state’s outlook. Certainly the message embattled Ohio Governor John Kasich has tried to portray is at odds with the Romney campaign as well.
This becomes a question of assigning responsibility. Are jobs returning to these states because of the work of Republican governors, or because of industrial policy at the federal level? The Romney campaign, when pressed, would obviously make the argument that the Republican governors deserve the credit in spite of the President, and that under his leadership they would be even more primed to succeed.
At the same time, I don’t know why Romney’s sweating this. It seems like the label of “rooting for failure” is a greater threat to his candidacy than any contradictions in a more positive economic performance in swing states. As political science professor John Sides points out, there’s no reason to believe that local economies play as much of a role in a Presidential election as national economies:
“To the extent that the economy matters, it’s the national economy that matters the most,” John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University, told TPM. “In general, people’s evaluations of the national economy are stronger predictors of vote choice than are evaluations of their own personal financial circumstances.”
In the corner for the national argument is a 2008 study by Stephen Ansolabehere, Marc Meredith and Erik Snowberg, which examined voters’ perceptions of the economy on the local and national levels over the last four elections. They concluded that while state unemployment was an influence on the voting public, it paled in comparison to the national unemployment rate, which they estimated had five times the impact on a president’s approval rating. A separate study of voting patterns from 1972-2000 also concluded that state and county economic conditions took a backseat to the national economy in voters’ minds.
“The models start from the nation’s economy because people, for whatever reason, are attuned to it,” UCLA political science professor Lynn Vavreck told TPM. “People have tried really hard to show the local economy actually matters more, but they have not been able to demonstrate it. There’s something about people associating the president with the nationwide economy.”
And that national economy is pretty clearly moving at stall speed. New data today shows things getting worse. The Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index fell off the cliff today, sending stocks well down. The June jobs report might show further reductions. To the extent that the economy determines Presidential elections, I don’t think there’s much for Romney to worry about. Local circumstances just might not play the role he expects.
But telling a governor to downplay economic positives, that speaks to character, and could actually end up being more of a problem.